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Today, we’re going to take a break from my own advice and listen to some great writing tips from famous authors. Clearly, they’ve done something correctly, so here are some pieces of advice from some of the greats!
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”
— Zadie Smith
Remind everyone that you love them, but they need to GTFO while you’re writing.
“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”
— Jonathan Franzen
Zadie Smith also has a quote about disconnecting your computer from the internet while you’re writing. She doesn’t specifically mention the distracting nature of cat memes, but we all know it’s true.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
— Anton Chekhov
A prime example of show, don’t tell!
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
— Neil Gaiman
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
— Dorothy Parker
As much as we love writing, writers are admittedly a group of masochists. You know it, I know it, and Dorothy Parker knew it.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
— Mark Twain
Think back to that line from The Dead Poets Society: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.” It was true in the movie and it remains true outside of it.
“Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.”
— Margaret Atwood
I think about this quote from Margaret Atwood every time I feel stuck. If something isn’t working, it’s because my character sat down in the middle of the woods, so I backtrack and change something until the story starts to flow again.
“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’”
— Helen Simpson
Really, that’s the core of all of it; if you want to be a writer, write. No more excuses, no more snacks. The dishes and laundry can wait. Just do it.
Happy Friday and happy writing!
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